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Living with Water

Devils Lake waters surround the Spirit Lake Casino on the Spirit Lake Reservation in June 2010. Forum Communications Co.

"Living with Water" is a five-part series by Forum Communications Co. that focuses on water issues concerning the Northern Plains.

Water is everywhere.

Its uses are myriad, from agricultural to recreational. But in North Dakota and Minnesota, the same water that sustains life alters it in many ways. Forum Communications’ special “Living with Water” series examines flooding and its consequences in the region.

The first installment

From drought to flood, water bedevils us

Water where we live: Missouri’s untamed controversies rage on

Written By: Patrick Springer / Forum Communications Co. | Jan 29th 2012


Chuck Gerhart of Mandan is shown near the Lewis and Clark Riverboat he pilots on the Missouri River near Bismarck-Mandan. He captained the riverboat Far West II on a trip downstream almost to Pierre, S.D., in a trip that recalled the riverboat era of the late 1800s. The river Gerhart encountered was profoundly changed by Garrison Dam and Oahe Dam, but he ran into sandbar snags, a problem that plagued riverboats of old. Patrick Springer / The Forum

BISMARCK – Chuck Gerhart suspected a few surprises lay ahead on a trip floating down the Mighty Missouri aboard a paddlewheel riverboat.

He’d soon learn, yet again, that the Missouri River can fool even a veteran who knows its currents well.

Gerhart’s boat was the Far West II, a replica of a famous steamboat by that name that ventured the upper Missouri in the 1870s, when riverboats were the primary means of transportation before the railroad.

As Gerhart left the dock, with 30 or 40 passengers on board, he eased the Far West into the current that would carry the boat more than 200 miles downriver.


Section 1 in print

Scroll through the PDF version of part one of the "Living with Water" series to read the rest of the section's stories as they appeared in the newspaper:


The second installment

Flooding is the most obvious water issue in our region. This week’s section looks at ways to fight floods and avoid future ones.

When water overwhelms: ‘I guess this is one in 500’

Written By: Patrick Springer / Forum Communications Co. | Feb 5th 2012

Susan and John Boyce, who live in the Sandy River Road area north of Bismarck, were forced out of their home by the 2011 Missouri River flood. The interior of the house, which suffered severe mold infestation from the floodwaters, had to be gutted and restored. Here, the Boyces visit their home in October 2011 to check on the restoration work and to survey the flood damage to their yard. Patrick Springer / The Forum

BISMARCK – Count John and Susan Boyce among the many who now know firsthand that the Missouri River can humble even the gigantic Garrison Dam.

Their home, in the leafy Sandy River Drive neighborhood north of Bismarck, is normally a couple of hundred yards from the Missouri River.

The ranch-style house was built in what was considered the 500-year floodplain, thanks to Garrison Dam, an earthen flood-control fortress 70 miles upstream. For almost 60 years, the dam kept areas like Sandy River Drive and numerous towns and subdivisions, as well as farms and ranches, dry during floods.


For the Boyces, that changed on June 2, 2011, when a dike breached and half a foot of floodwater inundated their home.


Section 2 in print

Scroll through the PDF version of part two of the "Living with Water" series to read the rest of the section's stories as they appeared in the newspaper:

The third installment

From recreation to irrigation, water plays a large role in the region. Not having enough water can be just as problematic as having too much. This week's section explores what could happen when rivers run low and precipitation isn't plentiful. How the region uses water for drinking, agriculture, industry, recreation, wildlife and the burgeoning oil boom in western North Dakota will be vital.

Water when we need it: When Red runs dry

Written By: Marino Eccher and Patrick Springer / Forum Communications Co. | Feb 12th 2012

The Red River in 1910, showing the railroad bridge connecting Fargo and Moorhead, taken from below NP Avenue. Photo courtesy of the Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo

FARGO – When it surges beyond its banks and clashes with levies and sandbag walls, the headlines call the Red a “river on the rampage.” But for a few drought-baked months in the 1930s, it was a river in retreat, dwindling to a trickle and for a stretch coming to a halt altogether.

Fish were trapped in scattered pools. Pedestrians crossed between Fargo and Moorhead via planks set in the mud. Water scarcity defined weekly routines.

It may seem like a foreign concept for a region that’s been besieged by wet weather for nearly two decades, but it’s only a matter of time before it happens again.

Droughts like those that devastated America’s heartland in the “Dirty Thirties” are not at all unusual for the region. And one study determined a repeat could strike before 2050.


Section 3 in print

Scroll through the PDF version of part three of the "Living with Water" series to read the rest of the section's stories as they appeared in the newspaper:

The fourth installment

The region faces a variety of water issues, perhaps none bigger than ensuring the quality of the water we drink, use for agriculture or recreate in. This week explores what's being done to maintain clean water and what's being done to keep it clean in the future.

Keeping water clean: What's in your water?

Written By: Marino Eccher / Forum Communications Co. | Feb 19th 2012

Water flows through a pre-sedimentation staging center at the Fargo Water Treatment Plant in south Fargo. David Samson / Forum Communications Co.

The goal of water treatment is perfection, and the people who do the job work around the clock to wring the impurities from every last drop. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Drinking water can contain trace amounts of everything from the metals in pipes to leftover disinfectant chemicals to radioactive materials.

Unless something goes very wrong, it isn’t enough to hurt you. The most recent contaminant tests for Fargo, Moorhead and Grand Forks tap water all fell within acceptable Environmental Protection Agency limits. Usually, it isn’t even enough for you to know it’s there – no more than a few parts in a million or a billion.

The EPA requires monitoring of more than 80 potential drinking water contaminants. Most of those never show up in regional tap water testing. Here’s a rundown of a few common ones that do:


Section 4 in print

Scroll through the PDF version of part four of the "Living with Water" series to read the rest of the section's stories as they appeared in the newspaper:

The fifth installment

The final installment of the five-part series explores the maze of agencies that manage resources in the region and explains the critical importance of water management.

Making policy for water: Front-line defense

Written By: Kristen M. Daum | Feb 26th 2012

The Sheyenne Diversion near West Fargo is full of water in this aerial photo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Communications Co.

WEST FARGO – Before the Sheyenne Diversion was built to protect communities west and southwest of Fargo, flooding plagued residents along the lower Sheyenne River for decades.

Former West Fargo City Commissioner Jake Gust remembers the 1969 and 1975 floods as “especially serious.” One person died fighting the flood of 1975, and the ’69 event alone cost about $500,000 in protection and cleanup efforts.

“Everyone was on board that we had to do something,” recalled Gust, who eventually became the Sheyenne Diversion’s superintendent after his 26-year tenure in city office.

Agreeing on what that “something” might be wasn’t easy, but since the Sheyenne Diversion became operational in 1992, it has continually protected the booming suburbs of West Fargo and Horace from some of the highest floods on record.


Section 5 in print

Scroll through the PDF version of part five of the "Living with Water" series to read the rest of the section's stories as they appeared in the newspaper:

"Living with Water" in print

Scroll through the PDF to read the full "Living with Water" series as it appeared in the newspaper.

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